By JOHN T. WARD
In an April 7 decision, Superior Court Judge Thomas Scully in Freehold rejected a challenge to a 2012 zoning change that raised the building-height limit at the proposed hotel site, at the foot of the Route 35 Cooper Bridge.
The decision, unless overturned on appeal, is expected to clear the way for the hotel’s developer, Rbank Capital, to return to the planning board with the most significant hurdle to the plan nullified.
The height-law change by the borough council was enacted in July, 2012, two months after the zoning board ruled that the hotel would exceed the height limit for its zone. The change allowed a building 82.4 feet tall, or seven stories, in the waterfront development zone.
At the time, and in court filings since, town officials characterized the change and others as an attempt to clarify murky and contradictory rules affecting the entire waterfront development zone, not solely the hotel property.
But it also removed the most significant obstacle to the proposed hotel, which several town officials, including Councilman Mike DuPont, had openly endorsed for the site, which is home to a long-disused Exxon station.
Attorney Ron Gasiorowski, who had previously and successefully sue the town over its handling of the hotel plan on behalf of environmentalist Stephen Mitchell – though his attorney fees got paid by the owners of the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel on Hope Road in Tinton Falls – filed another one over the zone change on behalf of plaintiff Angela Agazzi, a Wallace Street resident and real estate agent. He argued that the changes were made without proper notice to neighbors; violated the town’s Master Plan; and that the town had engaged in “contract zoning” to allow the developer to contravene zoning law.
Scully rejected all those arguments, saying Gasiorowski had failed to show the amendments have “no rational relationship to the public health, morals, safety or welfare.”
“Basically, the governing body’s actions were all found to be legal,” borough Attorney Dan O’Hern told redbankgreen Wednesday.
Gasiorowski could not be reached Thursday morning for comment on a possible appeal. Nor could Rbank Capital attorney Marty McGann, on his client’s plans.
Here’s Gasiorowski’s challenge: Agazzi Trial Brief 9.10.13
Here’s how the town defended the changes: Red Bank’s Trial Brief 10.8.13
Here’s Scully’s decision: Agazzi v. Red Bank, Opinion of Court 4-7-14